"We've agreed on the length of (a new contract) and a commitment to each other. I felt very good about it, and I think he (Athletic Director Dick Dull) did, too. Now he is going to work out the terms. There isn't going to be any difficulty with that."

-- Bobby Ross

Hooray! Maryland's football coach is staying. Said so, didn't he? You can't be much more definite than what you just read, can you?

You certainly cannot.

There's just one problem with that Bobby Ross statement: he said it slightly more than a year ago.

The last thing 62 media mavens expected at Ross' press conference yesterday was that the doughnuts would be fresher than the news. Ross had turned down another M-school, Minnesota, as he had done with Missouri last year. Nearly everyone expected Ross to also announce he had officially re-upped with the Terrapins.

Surely he had signed the contract that, in one form or another, has awaited his autograph since shortly after last Thanksgiving.

He had not.

"We've gone from being general to being specific," he said.

Afternoon soaps have shorter plots.

Summits between the globe's Division I superpowers have been planned and executed. Parts of nations have been ravaged and begun to recover. Children have been conceived and born and Ross still has not signed what he promised to on the final day of November 1984.

A mere formality, Ross insists.

He said that yesterday.

"The next couple of days," Dull said. "Within a week."

Okay.

Please call with the play-by-play. Did he use ballpoint or felt tip? Fact is, I wouldn't mind witnessing the momentous event.

Ross certainly is entitled to take as long as he deems necessary to sign away his immediate future. As this politically sensitive area knows, and Ross also should by now, public indecision leads to a situation he loathes:

Speculation.

To Bobby Ross, it's as bad as a fumble on fourth-and-goal against Penn State. Speculation is meaner and more disruptive than anyone Clemson or North Carolina State ever will suit up. He knew his life at Maryland would be complicated at times; never did he realize the fishbowl seats 52,000. And that civil creatures who write columns turn a tad skeptical when the simple act of signing his name gets ludicrous.

So long have discussions about guidelines for academics been discussed that even a reasonable person might conclude that Maryland will admit just about anybody who gets the alphabet halfway in order to keep Ross.

Do I believe that?

Nope.

Not one bit of evidence has been introduced in his four years that suggests Ross is anything but what he claims: "a football coach and an educator." In that order. He's honest about that, same as he's honest about perhaps leaving Maryland if the job of his dreams opens and crooks a come-hither finger his way.

Ross was asked if he would opt for a "Lou Holtz clause," so he could leave without breaking his contract if a specific job became available. He said he "didn't want to get into that" because it would lead to "speculation." Lately, he has endured too much speculation. Such as the time he awoke before the North Carolina game and was informed by television that he would be the next coach of the Houston Oilers.

Never had he talked with the Oilers.

Never had he planned to.

Such fiction is as irresponsible as it is disruptive.

"Coaches were calling me for jobs," said Ross, not smiling.

Thankfully, Ross lacks the easy con that many in his profession have mastered. So many coaches proclaim: "This'll be the last job I ever have. I'll be here till they don't want me." Two years down the line, they drift somewhere else.

Since recruits are the annual transfusion that sustains football life, Ross was asked his response to a thoughtful prospect who might inquire: "Will you be here my entire four years?" His immediate response was to reverse the question, to ask the prospect: "Will you be with me for four years?" Then he said: "Yes, I have that commitment."

Good.

Stability is vital to winning the national championship Ross covets. With three straight Atlantic Coast Conference titles, his program has credibility. He has won 17 of his last 24 games, which happens to be exactly what Joe Paterno has done in a similar time frame at Penn State. No wonder Ross has been linked with so many vacancies.

This causes chaos.

Ross admitted his emotions have been "like a yo-yo" the last few days and joked that even the dog, Chief, who joined the family when daddy was an aide with the Kansas City Chiefs, got an upset stomach.

A source familiar with the intramural doings the last year said this time will be different, that Ross will sign -- and soon. Part of the reason Ross failed to sign that 10-year deal to which he also had agreed "in principle" was simply that the contract was stalled too long in the Maryland bureaucracy before it reached his desk.

Ross' superior, Dull, has assumed the proper posture all long.

"I'd rather he be 8-3 and interviewing," Dull said, "than 3-8 here and sitting."